From the Director





by Rex Parker, Director

Another Season for AAAP
Our intrepid member “Totality Group” has returned from Oregon, the partial eclipse was seen by >300 people here at AAAP’s Washington Crossing Observatory, and September’s cooler weather has arrived in central NJ. We’re turning the page for a new season of great programs and fun events in AAAP, starting with the first monthly meeting on Sept 12 (see the announcement from Program Director Ira Polans in this issue). We’ll talk about member eclipse experiences at the Sept 12 meeting and want to hear from all of you with stories to share.

Autumn equinox arrives on Sept 22 which by coincidence is the first day of Jersey StarQuest, AAAP’s annual astro-observing event in northwest NJ. There’s a history here – if I’m counting right, this is the 26th StarQuest sponsored by our club. This year we’re featuring Electronic-Assisted Astronomy (EAA) live on the observing field. EAA is the emerging technique of using a digital imaging device in lieu of an eyepiece at the telescope for near-real-time viewing (distinct from long-exposure deep sky astrophotography). Several EAA equipment setups will be available for you to see and learn at StarQuest, as well as eyepiece-based systems. Weather-permitting, telescopes will be running all night giving you a chance to learn from experienced members even if you don’t yet own a telescope. See the announcement below for more info. We’re requesting that you return an intent-to-participate form (in the flier sent by e-mail to all members, and on the website) but no advance payment is needed, pay upon arrival.

Electronic Assisted Astronomy (EAA) Using the SX Ultrastar-Color Camera.
EAA is fast becoming one of the most capable techniques for astronomy observing especially in areas with significant light pollution. The upcoming Jersey Starquest event is featuring EAA (see above). Advances in camera hardware and software make near-live imaging with small telescopes more feasible than ever. Following on the recent suggestion that the club acquire this technology to improve the quality of outreach by members, I further tested one example of this camera technology, the Starlight Xpress Ultrastar-color CCD camera. There are a few other cameras out there to consider, some of which will be demonstrated by members at Starquest.

In the mid-summer edition of ST I showed images from the Ultrastar-C using the club’s Mewlon-250 telescope, a powerful 3-meter focal length scope. However, more practical for portable field use and outreach would be a wider field refractor on a lightweight portable mount. Below is a screen shot of the Eagle Nebula, M16, taken with a 5” refractor (FL=1m) on a relatively simple Celestron GP equatorial mount only roughly polar-aligned in the field. The image represents what you see on the screen in “real-time” with no further processing beyond the 7 second align/stack/mean by Starlight Live software.

Screenshot of Eagle Nebula (M16) as seen in near-real-time using EAA technology. M16 is a star-forming region about 7000 light years away in the constellation Sagitarrius. Screenshot from Ultrastar-C/Starlight Live using a 5” refractor in the field on a small portable mount. By RAP Aug 8 2017.

Skynet Update – Remote Imaging for Members
To date 10 AAAP members (of 24 with accounts) have accessed the remote telescope network capabilities offered by our participation in UNC-Chapel Hill’s Skynet. AAAP is sponsoring and paying for access to this system in order to give members a learning opportunity in remote astro-imaging. The telescopes are located all over the world, typically 16” imaging scopes of Ritchey Chretien pedigree with high quality large format CCD cameras. If you’re interested but not yet involved, send me an e-mail note to get set up. Full dtails are explained in the June issue of AAAP’s Sidereal Times. Also see the Skynet web site,

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From the Program Chair

By Ira Polans

The September AAAP meeting is on the 12th at 7:30PM in Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus. The talk is on the “Strange New Worlds” of exoplanets by Dr. Josh Winn, Princeton University.

Did you know that it wasn’t until the 1990s that scientists could be sure there were planets beyond our solar system? Since then, astronomers have discovered thousands of these planets —known as “exoplanets”—circling distant stars. Dr Winn will explain why it took so long to find planets around other stars, what new technologies and techniques were required, and what kind of planets have been found. Recent advances have revealed bizarre new worlds unlike anything in our Solar System, while also bringing us right to the threshold of finding other planets similar to Earth. Dr. Winn’s talk will also cover the latest findings of earth-sized planets recently announced by NASA.

Prior to the meeting there will be a meet-the-speaker dinner at 6PM at Winberie’s in Palmer Square in Princeton. . If you’re interested in attending please contact no later than Noon on September 12.

If you have suggestions for speakers please send them to Please provide the speaker’s name, topic, and affiliation. Thanks!

We look forward to seeing you at the September meeting and the dinner!

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My Moment of Totality

by Tom Hammell

For 2 minutes 15 seconds I was one with the universe and understood all its mysteries…at least that is how I felt during the total eclipse on August 21. Maybe this was just the feeling of joy of seeing the eclipse after a long flight, some even longer drives and little sleep in the previous couple of days. Although most eclipse chasers picked a town to be at months before the eclipse day I kept my plans flexible so that I could adjust to the ever changing weather forecast to make sure I had a 100% clear sky on eclipse day.

On the Friday before the eclipse I flew to Denver. The western part of the US offered the best possibility of clear weather. From Denver I could get 1000 miles east or west, in two days, along the path of the eclipse. On Saturday I checked the eclipse weather forecast. There was a 70% chance of clear skies in Casper Wyoming, 80% in Rexburg Idaho, and 85% in Weiser Idaho. So to maximize our chances of having a clear sky for the eclipse we spend 2 days driving 800+ miles to Boise Idaho by the border with Oregon.

Monday, the day of the eclipse, we get up at 4am, to get ahead of any crowds or traffic. We drive north just over 60 miles to a town called Smith’s Ferry based on the advice of a local man in Boise. Smith’s Ferry, he said, should be less crowded than the other towns in the area which are already over flowing with eclipse watchers. It is also on the center line of the eclipse so it will give us the most amount of totality for this area. The less crowed claim proves to be correct as we pull into a mostly empty grass field by the Payette river at 6am. We are able to get a spot along the river with a clear view to the east and south. Next to us two astronomers from Sweden pull in. The first thing they do is to plant a set of Swedish flags in front of their car to mark out where they plan to set up their equipment. They tell me that they are claiming that land for Sweden. When I reminded them that this is already sovereign US territory they laugh and say don’t worry you can have it back at the end of the day. We were now in the company of some fun fellow astronomers which was good.

After parking and getting to know the people around us we set up our equipment. I have an iOptron Smartstar Cube-G R80 This is an inexpensive and very compact GOTO telescope with a built-in GPS. It was very easy to fit in my carry on luggage. The telescope itself is a 80mm, f/5 achromatic refractor. This is a wide field instrument and is perfect for observing the full disks of the Sun and Moon. This scope worked flawlessly for the 3 plus hours of the eclipse and I was very impress with the performance not only of the GOTO system but of the optics of the scope itself.

For taking pictures of the eclipse I used an IPod Touch which has a 5 MP camera and just used the built in Camera App. I made a home made jig that attached it to the eye piece to align it and keep it steady when taking pictures. This is a very portable and simple set up that with a little practice can take very good photos.

With my solar filter on the telescope I took a couple of test photos to get a full disk image of the sun. It had some interesting sun spots on it and made a good picture.

At 10:11am I saw the shadow of the moon start to encroach on the sun and knew it was only a matter of time before I would see my first total eclipse.

The excitement kept building as the eclipse progressed. I had a constant stream of people coming over for a look through the telescope. I enjoyed explaining what they were seeing and sharing their delight at seeing the eclipse.
I took pictures every 10-15 mins to document the progress of the Moon passing in front of the Sun. About 20 mins before totality I noticed it getting colder and darker. It was really weird to see it getting darker as the Sun was rising. You might think it was like the twilight after a sun set but it felt different than that some how. In the next 15 minutes the temperature dropped at least 10 degrees and the sky went from sunny to a bright twilight.

As the totality approached I connected my IPod Touch to the telescope and made sure the focus was good. I also a had Cannon power shot point and shot camera set up on a tripod to take a wide angle view of the eclipse. This camera has a couple of different manual modes. I chose shutter speed priority mode and set it for ¼ secs shutter speed hoping it would capture something.

You can somehow feel when the totality is about to occur and as it approached the crowd started to yell and clap. When the Moon finally covered the Sun at 11:26 am everybody screamed and cheered. I quickly started taking pictures through the telescope which was easy as all I had to do was push the shutter button on the IPod Touch. I took one picture with my Cannon camera then gave up on it as it didn’t look like the exposure was set correctly and I didn’t want to waste any precious time playing with shutter speeds. (Next time I will have a camera that can do bracketed exposures)

Anybody who has seen an eclipse will tell you it is important in the moments of totality to not get too caught up trying to get the perfect picture and to just relax and watch the totality with your naked eyes. As this article explains, the human eye can see and put together multiple exposures and wavelengths together in a way a camera can’t. Although I got some great pictures, the actual view I saw was much different. The corona I saw with my naked eyes was bigger and more complex than the pictures. The color of the sky and corona were also a lot different. Some people have described the light thrown off by the corona like the light of the full moon but to me it looked brighter than a full moon without throwing off enough light to cast shadows like moonlight does.

As totality continued I stayed by the telescope adjusting the exposure of the IPod Touch and took a picture every 15 to 20 seconds. Since I had practiced so much before the trip I could do it with out really taking my eyes off the sky. This let me just enjoy the moment and focus on looking at the totality with my naked eyes. It was also fun identifying the planets and stars I could see. It was a glorious 2 mins and 15 seconds that can not be described.

The totality was visually and intellectually beautiful but the thing that surprised me the most was the emotional impact of the moment. The people around us that we had been hanging out with for the past few hours felt like family and when the totality occurred I could feel the joy and happiness of our collective group. When I said I felt connected to the universe at the beginning of this article I not only meant I felt connected to the sun, moon and earth but also felt connected to the people around me. I know it is a feeling I will have with me every time I think of this moment.

At the end of the totality there were more cheers and high fives. We watched the end of the eclipse as we digested the experience. It was definitely worth the trouble and expense to see it and I now know why people travel all over the world to see an eclipse.

I am very happy with the way my pictures turned out. I got a decent shot of the bright corona.

I managed to get a picture of one of the three solar flares that were coming off the Sun at this time.

And because of pure luck in timing I got a picture of the diamond ring.

Even my wide angle shot came out pretty good. The corona is over exposed and I wish I could have captured more of the stars I could see with the naked eye but ¼ second exposure ended up being a good compromise.

I am not a professional photographer or have the equipment to do real astrophotography but think my simple set up did a pretty good job of getting pictures of the eclipse. For my next eclipse (and I’m already thinking about April 8, 2024) I will probably change my set up a little. My iOptron Smartstar Cube-G R80 was the perfect scope for watching the eclipse. For taking pictures, through the telescope, I may either get a better camera or a better app so that I can take a wider range of exposures and number of photos. This will allow me to stack and process them to improve the quality of the pictures. Lastly and most importantly I will bring along some cold beer so that I can celebrate with my fellow eclipse watchers to enjoy the moment even more.

For more of Tom Hammell’s photos click here.

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First Time Experiencing a Total Solar Eclipse

by Ira Polans

Although I’ve been an amateur astronomer for most of my life, I’ve never had a chance to observe a total solar eclipse before. When some of us decided to go to Oregon to see the eclipse, I thought it was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.

The original plan was to take some pictures during the partial phases. Then watch totality from beginning to end. As it turned out things didn’t go quite as planned. I also brought binoculars along with the appropriate solar filters.

My traveling companion for the trip was my brother Michael. When we got to the observing site I first put on the eclipse glasses and was surprised to see sunspots. I confirmed this a few moments later with the binoculars.

Then I set-up the camera (point and shoot) to take pictures of the partial phases

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Finally totality came!

I wasn’t planning to take pictures during totality as I wanted to follow the advice I was given by many experienced observers. But the change in the sky was so sudden I decided to take some pictures (many did not come out). As it turns out I almost didn’t actually view the eclipse. About half way through I realized this and stopped taking pictures.

I was amazed at how inky black the moon was and how the sky was colored!! I expected to see stars and planets around the Sun. I also thought I would see Venus, Surprisingly I saw none of these objects. I also did not see any shadow bands but I really didn’t look for them.

After a brief glimpse of totality Bailey’s Beads and the diamond ring effect appeared. Both my brother and I were surprised at how bright they were. A few minutes later the sky returned to daylight and the eclipse was over.

Overall it was a great experience and I encourage anybody who hasn’t seen a total solar eclipse to go and see one!!!

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Oregon Trip

Pictures and Videos by AAAP Members and Friends

Abhijit Singh, AAAP friend did an excellent job with Nikon Camera and Celestron Filter.

John Church’s Cat with Ears Corona!!

Images from Gerrit Dispersyn’s Camera.

Click to enlarge

Pictures from John Church’s Camera
Click to enlarge

Pictures from Sanjai Agarwal’s Canon Camera
Click to enlarge

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From Hendersonville, Tennessee

by James Poinsett, Secretary

The AAAP was represented in Hendersonville, Tennessee, a little north of Nashville.

I set up my telescope and over 100 people, mostly kids, came up to look through it at the eclipse.

Great clear skies, what an experience.

Click to enlarge

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Eclipse Watching at AAAP Observatory

This gallery contains 26 photos.

by Rex A Parker What a day to remember! While we await some exciting stories from the AAAP Totality Group (have heard it was fantastic in Oregon), we’d like to acknowledge the GREAT job and big effort by AAAP members … Continue reading

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From Kevin Mooney’s camera at Washington Crossing

Click to enlarge

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AAAP in Palmer Square

by Jim Fling

Former Director John Miller, Bob Thorpe and myself represented the AAAP in Palmer Square, Princeton. The Princeton Library and our friends at Princeton University Astrophysics sponsored an eclipse viewing party on the lawn at Palmer Square. TV news estimated the crowd at over 2,000 people! Both John and Bob provided telescopes for viewing and my estimate is that well over 400 people and children got to see the sun, sun spots and the moon through the scopes that these two veteran AAAP members provided!

It was a very hot day and it was quite the effort for John and Bob to tote those telescopes to Princeton and deliver three plus hours of viewing to the public, but that’s one of the primary missions of the AAAP and people were delighted to say the least.

ABC news was there all day. Watch the video news clip of the event on their web site. In the video look for John peering through his telescope and then also making some comments about the size of the crowd relative to his 30+ years of public outreach.

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Frimet is cool!

by Ted Frimet

Although my A/C quit on my, this weekend, my remote Australian observatory didn’t.
Thank you Skynet. You made me feel cooler, despite the heat!

NGC 253, R-COP 40 second observation, time taken at Aug 20, 2017 10:33 EST.

Open aperture, no color filters. RA | Dec: 00:47:33.1, -25:17:19.6

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Skynet Lesson

by Ted Frimet

———————————————————-END LESSON—————————————————-

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compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

1919 solar eclipse, observed in Sobral, Brazil. Photo: Arthur Eddington

1919 solar eclipse, observed in Sobral, Brazil. Photo: Arthur Eddington

The Eclipse That Revealed the Universe
In 1919, British astronomers photographed a solar eclipse and proved that light bends around our sun — affirming Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Few eclipses have had more impact on modern history than the one that occurred on May 29, 1919, more than six minutes of darkness sweeping across South America and across the Atlantic to Africa…more

 1925 painting by Howard Russell Butler

1925 painting by Howard Russell Butler

How Do You Paint an Eclipse? Work Fast in the Dark
PRINCETON, N.J. — A third of the way through “Macbeth,” right after the antihero murders the king of Scotland, two noblemen look up into the sky and behold a celestial horror. “By the clock, ’tis day,” says the Thane of Ross, “And yet dark night strangles the traveling lamp.”..more

Cassini skims Saturn’s atmosphere
The Cassini probe has begun the final phase of its mission to Saturn. The satellite has executed the first of five ultra-close passes of the giant world, dipping down far enough to brush through the top of the atmosphere. It promises unprecedented data on the chemical composition of Saturn…more

Auroral Crown - Yulia Zhulikova

Auroral Crown – Yulia Zhulikova

In pictures: Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2017
From the northern lights to noctilucent clouds, the range of subjects in this year’s competition covers all things astronomical. Here is a selection of the shortlisted images…more

An artist’s rendering  of the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 - NYT

An artist’s rendering of the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69 – NYT

Chasing Shadows for a Glimpse of a Tiny World Beyond Pluto
This summer, scientists crisscrossed two oceans, braved wind and cold and deployed two dozen telescopes — all for five blinks of starlight that lasted a second or less. For the team working with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which made a spectacular flyby of Pluto two years ago, those smidgens of data provide intriguing hints about the spacecraft’s next destination…more

Larry Zottarelli, recently retired.  - NYT

Larry Zottarelli, recently retired. – NYT

The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe
As the Voyager mission is winding down, so, too, are the careers of the aging explorers who expanded our sense of home in the galaxy. In the early spring of 1977, Larry Zottarelli, a 40-year-old computer engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, set out for Cape Canaveral, Fla., in his Toyota Corolla. A Los Angeles native, he had never ventured as far as Tijuana, but he had a per diem, and he liked to drive…more

Gamma ray bursts from a dying star. Credit: A Roquette/Bath University

Gamma ray bursts from a dying star. Credit: A Roquette/Bath University

Massive star bursts caught in one in 10,000 chance encounter
A detailed picture of the most powerful type of explosion in the universe has been captured in what was described as a one in 10,000 chance event. Light from gamma ray bursts (GRBs) was captured by an orbiting telescope developed in part by Bath University…more

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